Rapid production and characterization of antimicrobial colicins using Escherichia coli-based cell-free protein synthesis

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Colicins are antimicrobial proteins produced by , which, upon secretion from the host, kill non-host strains by forming pores in the inner membrane and degrading internal cellular components such as DNA and RNA. Due to their unique cell-killing activities, colicins are considered viable alternatives to conventional antibiotics. Recombinant production of colicins requires co-production of immunity proteins to protect host cells; otherwise, the colicins are lethal to the host. In this study, we used cell-free protein synthesis (CFPS) to produce active colicins without the need for protein purification and co-production of immunity proteins. Cell-free synthesized colicins were active in killing model cells with different modes of cytotoxicity. Pore-forming colicins E1 and nuclease colicin E2 killed actively growing cells in a nutrient-rich medium, but the cytotoxicity of colicin Ia was low compared to E1 and E2. Moreover, colicin E1 effectively killed cells in a nutrient-free solution, while the activity of E2 was decreased compared to nutrient-rich conditions. Both colicins E1 and E2 decreased the level of persister cells (metabolically dormant cell populations that are insensitive to antibiotics) by up to six orders of magnitude compared to that of the rifampin pretreated persister cells. This study finds that colicins can eradicate non-growing cells including persisters, and that CFPS is a promising platform for rapid production and characterization of toxic proteins.

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Synthetic biology (Oxford, England)

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